One of the many ways that foes of hydraulic fracturing attempt to turn the tide of public interest against the industry is to strike at the industries that help fuel fracking projects. Which brings us to Wisconsin, which has been called the Saudi Arabia of sand, because of its incredible wealth of the product. While the industrial sand business is more than 100 years old, extracting sand for the hydraulic fracturing has brought the industry into the crosshairs of activists looking to stop the oil and gas industry from hydraulic fracturing.
In 2014, Wisconsin was the nation’s leading producer of frac sand, producing more than three times its closest competitor. In recent years, the increased demand for hydraulic fracturing has helped create an economic boon in the state that has made a living extracting sand for more than a century. The sand extraction industry also provides a bump to the local economy, as most of the initial preparation of the sand is done locally.
While that boom has slowed down as the price of crude oil has fallen, the potential for an immense profit to the state lies buried just underneath the soil in Wisconsin.
The recent controversy surrounding fracking, however, has brought Wisconsin’s sand extraction under scrutiny, so much so that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was prompted to do a complete study of the environmental and health impacts of an industry that — one more time — is a hundred years old. It might be worth noting that the survey in question was conducted at the behest of a petition with little more than a thousand signatures. When that’s compared to Wisconsin’s population of six million people, it’s remotely possible that the controversy itself isn’t the will of the state’s general population. At any rate (and perhaps unsurprisingly) when the WDNR concluded their study, they determined that their was little to no harm involved in sand extraction, living around sand extraction, etc.
Unfortunately, the results of this study have done little to curb environmental groups’ fervor. In response to the study, anti-fracking protestors have claimed that the DNRs findings are dubious explaining that there must be information to condemn the sand extraction industry, it just hasn’t been found and/or provided yet.
That kind of enthusiasm isn’t likely to go away just because a government agency concluded that sand extraction isn’t very harmful.